Black Friday had a different meaning to the National Hockey League as more games were wiped from the schedule Friday by the lockout and the byplay between the league and the NHL Players Association took on an even darker tone.
The league canceled all games through Dec. 14 and also shelved All-Star Weekend in Columbus, scheduled for Jan. 26-27. The cancellations take the total number of games lost to the lockout up to 422, or 34.3 percent of the schedule. The Buffalo Sabres have now had 27 games wiped off the original schedule (15 at home).
In this round of cancellations, the Sabres lost home games against San Jose, Montreal, Ottawa and Chicago, as well as road games against Boston, Toronto and Montreal. Of course, if there’s a season, a completely new schedule is going to have to be drawn up anyway.
“The reality of losing more regular-season games as well as the 2013 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus is extremely disappointing,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “We feel badly for NHL fans and particularly those in Columbus, and we intend to work closely with the Blue Jackets organization to return the NHL All-Star events to Columbus and their fans as quickly as possible.”
If players participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there will be no All-Star festivities during the 2013-14 season, meaning Columbus will have to wait until at least 2015.
NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr reacted angrily to the league’s latest news.
“On Wednesday, the players presented a comprehensive proposal, once again moving in the owners’ direction in order to get the game back on the ice,” Fehr said in a statement. “The gap that remains on the core economic issues is $182 million. On Wednesday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league is losing $18-20 million per day during the lockout, therefore two more weeks of canceled games far exceeds the current economic gap.
“It makes the NHL’s announcement of further game cancellations, including the 2013 All-Star Weekend, all the more unnecessary, and disappointing for all hockey fans – especially those in Columbus. The players remain ready to negotiate but we require a willing negotiating partner.”
A couple of hours earlier, Daly and NHL Special Counsel Steve Fehr appeared separately in live interviews on Sportsnet 590 The FAN, the all-sports radio station in Toronto. They said they spoke briefly Friday but that no new talks are planned after Wednesday’s session did not produce any real progress on core economic issues.
Said Steve Fehr: “We moved a couple of miles, and they moved a couple of inches. If it was Thanksgiving dinner, they gave us a relish tray but no turkey.”
For his part, Daly warned that the rumblings about decertification of the union would not speed the process to a solution but in fact would jeopardize any hopes of a settlement.
Daly called it “a time-consuming process that would likely lead to the end of the season.”
To whom was the warning directed? It was clearly aimed at Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who emailed the Toronto Globe and Mail (the national newspaper of Canada) late Thursday night and became the first player to publicly endorse that direction.
“After watching the other sport leagues go through labor disputes last year, it is apparent that until decertification is filed, there will not be any real movement or negotiation,” Miller wrote, referring to lockouts in the NFL and NBA once those players threatened to decertify.
Decertification (dissolving the union) certainly comes with risks. While it would allow the players to go to court seeking an injunction to end the lockout or to file an antitrust lawsuit, it could render large sections of the current CBA moot and prompt owners to impose other conditions.
“I am tired of the disregard and the ego,” Miller wrote. “Our fans and sponsors are alienated, and this is hurting the game. This process has more of the appearance of brand suicide than a negotiation.”
In non-lockout news, Sabres assistant coach Teppo Numminen was named Friday to the 2013 class of inductees for the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame.
He will be inducted in May in Stockholm, Sweden, in a class that includes former NHL and international stars Peter Forsberg, Paul Henderson and Mats Sundin.
Numminen played in four Olympics (winning three medals), four IIHF World Championships, and another four Canada Cup/World Cup events for his native Finland. With the previous induction of his father, Kalevi, as a builder in 2011 for his role as a coach of the Finnish National Team, the Numminens will become the first father-son pair in the IIHF Hall of Fame.